Are Flexible Solar Panels Any Good?

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You have seen the ads for flexible solar panels and you may be tempted to buy one. They’re cheaper than rigid panels and still generate energy from the sun. But are flexible solar panels good? Are they worth the money or are you better off with regular, rigid solar panels?

Flexible solar panels are ideal for camping and hiking and you can also mount them on an RV roof. If portability is important and you do not need a lot of power, these solar panels are a good choice.

Rigid vs. Flexible Solar Panels

Flexible or thin film solar panels are more versatile than rigid solar panels. The flexible design means you can install them on different types of surfaces. Flexible panels are also lighter, great if your RV roof can’t support heavy weights. For RVs, boats and d=off grid set ups, we recommend the Renogy 175W Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panels as they combine power with efficiency.

They are easier to set up and installation cost is cheaper or free if you do it yourself. Flexible panels can be set on fabrics, aluminum, glass, metal and other types of materials. With rigid panels you always need an even, smooth surface to set up the system.

The most notable disadvantage of flexible panels is lower energy efficiency. Even under ideal weather, flexible panels don’t generate the same amount of power that rigid cells do. Flexible panels cannot provide enough power for use with an air conditioner for instance. For an AC or powering homes, you need more powerful stuff like the Eco-Worthy 3000W Solar Panel Kit System.

Flexible panels are made from lighter, thinner silicon than its rigid counterparts. It is strong but will wear out faster over time. While rigid panels are protected by aluminum framing and heavy glass, flexible panels are set on flexible sheets, which aren’t as durable.

Flexible solar panels are for you if:

  • You want light, portable solar panels
  • Do not use large appliances
  • Only charge small devices like cell phones and batteries
  • Use minimal power on RVs
  • Travel with minimal power requirements
  • Want a solar panel that can be installed on different types of surfaces

Flexible solar panels are NOT for you if:

  • You live in your RV
  • Your large home needs plenty of solar power
  • Spend lots of time in your camper using power hungry appliances
  • Need a strong, consistent supply of power for long periods of time

Types of Flexible Solar Panels

Solar panels are either monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon wafers. These are about as thin as human hair. The most popular flexible solar units are thin film panels, cells almost 300 times thinner than a typical solar panel. By printing the photovaltic element on the surface, thin film panels can be bent, flexed or rolled up like a blanket.

Thin film panels are not just thin but also durable. When installing on an RV roof they can handle different types of weather without performance degradation, making them ideal for outdoor use. These panels also need minimal maintenance and should run fine if properly installed.

How Long Does a Flexible Solar Panel Last?

High quality flexible panels should last several years. These need very little maintenance apart from removing dirt. Here are some suggestions:

  • After each trip, inspect the solar panels for signs of dirt.
  • Wipe the cells clean with fresh water.
  • Remove dirt, dust particles, bird droppings, water deposits, small branches etc. By removing the debris you increase the performance of the cells.

If water isn’t sufficient to remove the debris, mix mild soap with water and wipe the cells. Wipe gently to avoid scratching. Do not use abrasive solutions like bleach. You may use alcohol to eliminate grease. Once the cells are dried and clean, apply a bit of plastic protection coating. You can find these in marine chandlery stores.

You should only polish the cells if the dirt is extensive or there signs of contaminants. Even then you should be careful and follow the direction for the product you’re using.

Do not neglect your flexible panels. Take care of them and they will last a long time. Make it a habit to clean them after a road trip and they’ll be fine. Don’t forget to fix any faulty wiring you see immediately.

Cover the solar panels when not in use. If they are not attached to the RV, store them in a safe, clean location. UV rays, heavy rain and other elements might cause damage, so cover the panels when your RV is not in use.

Do not bend the panels unless it is necessary. Yes they are bendable, but that doesn’t mean you should do so all the time. That feature was built in to make the panels more versatile, not something to play with. Even though they’re built for flexibility, too much bending will lead to cracks and render it unusable. Handle the solar panels carefully, especially when installing on your RV or placing them in storage.

Why Do Flexible Solar Panels Fail?

The most common cause of failure are:

Buy only from reputable manufacturers. Very cheap flexible cells will cost you more in the long run as they’re not going to last. Better to spend money now on a good solar panel than pay more for a replacement later.

Signs of a poorly made flexible solar panel:

  • Cells overlap
  • Cells have different colors and shades
  • Ill fitting diodes
  • Junction box fittings have signs of corrosion
  • Junction boxes are improperly sealed. This will lead to corrosion
  • Sharp or uneven edges

If you see these signs, look for another company to buy from. Do not settle for cheap solar panels because you could end up with an unusable solar panel in the middle of nowhere.

Can you cut flexible solar panels? You can cut solar panels with s sharp tool, but it’s not advisable to do so. There may be some instances it may be necessary: if you want to manage how much energy the panels use, or you prefer a smaller panel. Even so only an expert in solar panels should attempt this. It is better to get an idea of how much power you need and find the right solar panel for it.

What Features to Look For in Flexible Solar Panels

First you have to determine if a flexible solar panel is right for you. If it is what you’re looking for, check the size / watt as that tells how much power the panels can generate. Get an idea of how much power you’ll be using before you buy the solar panel.

Other factors to consider:

  • Industry Certifications: Look for the IEC 61215 and / or ISO 9001. These are industry certifications for quality standards. This ensures the solar panels were built at least according to minimum standards.
  • Warranty: a good warranty isn’t long but also comprehensive. Don’t expect these warranties to last as long as rigid solar panels though, but the good ones should be good for 2 years or more.
  • ETFE: flexible solar panels are made by placing them between polymers. The cheaper panels use PTE polymer, while modern, higher quality panels use ETFE. ETFE is bit more expensive, but it is better at energy efficiency. They’re also more durable and can withstand rain. If you’re going to install one on the roof your RV, ETFE is the best option.
  • Bottom line: make sure you have the best solar panels whether they are rigid or flexible.

How Much Do Flexible Solar Panels Cost?

The flexible solar panel price ranges from $120 up to $200 or so. The wattage, physical dimensions and materials used for construction affect the price. While price is the first thing many buyers look at, you should check the watts, the design and the general feedback about the product.. But even the most expensive are cheaper than rigid panels, which makes them a nice alternative if you don’t need a lot of solar power when on the go.

Note that you still need connectors and cables to hook up the solar panel to your RV. These will add up to the cost but it’s still way lower compared to rigid solar systems.

Conclusion

Are flexible solar panels worth getting? In a word, yes. If you go out on the trail, hike or camp, if you go on RV trips, a portable, lightweight solar solution comes in handy. Even though they don’t provide the same power as large, rigid systems, flexible solar panels offer more than enough means to get free energy.